For its 15th annual benefit luncheon Wednesday, March 7, the YWCA of Greater Memphis is bringing actor-turned-activist and best-selling author Victor Rivas Rivers to town to discuss his familial experiences with domestic violence.
The luncheon will take place at noon at the Memphis Marriott East, 2625 Thousand Oaks Blvd. In conjunction with the event, sponsor Verizon will host a HopeLine drive, encouraging luncheon attendees to donate used cell phones to be distributed to victims of domestic abuse.
Rivers, a former football player for Florida State University and the Miami Dolphins, found success as a film and television actor, frequently playing the role of villain. His film credits include “Amistad,” “Havana” with Robert Redford and “The Mask of Zorro,” in which he played Antonio Banderas’ ill-fated brother. His television credits include “CSI Miami,” “Star Trek” and “Miami Vice.”
But before the Cuban-born, U.S.-raised Rivers found success on the football field and in Hollywood, he witnessed his mother endure terrible domestic violence at the hands of his father. As a pre-teen, Rivers begged the authorities for help, but was told his problem was “a private family matter,” a term he later used as the title of his New York Times bestselling memoir.
“It’s really riveting, and it goes into detail about his own family experiences and his own personal trauma when he sought help from the authorities back in the late ’60s,” said Deanna Chamberlain, public relations director for YWCA Greater Memphis, a nonprofit dedicated to eliminating racism and empowering women in the Memphis community. “Years later, he told the story of how he managed to change his life and break that cycle, and the book is a very compelling, beautiful story.”
Today, having broken the cycle of violence, Rivers, who is a husband and father, speaks out about the most under-reported crime in the U.S.
“It’s very compelling whenever a man will stand up and say that domestic violence isn’t just a woman’s issue; it’s everyone’s issue,” Chamberlain said. “He’s also Cuban-American, and one of the programs of YWCA is our immigrant services program, which helps Spanish-speaking victims of domestic violence. That connection was another reason we brought him here.”
Also speaking at Wednesday’s luncheon will be local domestic violence survivor Shirley Godwin, who was so terrified during her marriage that she nearly resorted to poisoning her husband. Instead, she fled with her daughter and found help at the YWCA of Greater Memphis.